England celebrate one of their goals saturday

Demola Ojo

England are into the World Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1990 thanks to Harry Maguire and Dele Alli headers against Sweden.

Maguire rose highest to thump home Ashley Young’s first-half cross, the eighth of England’s 11 goals at this World Cup to come from a set-piece. And Alli was unmarked to turn home Jesse Lingard’s cross against a lacklustre Sweden in Samara.

England keeper Jordan Pickford pulled off three fantastic saves to keep Sweden out – first turning away a Marcus Berg header, then producing a low stop from Viktor Claesson and finally tipping Berg’s shot over the bar.

The Three Lions are in the last four for only the third time ever. They went on to win their home tournament in 1966 but lost to West Germany on penalties in 1990.

England not only reached the World Cup semi-finals for the first time since Italia 90, they did the job under the pressure of the occasion and the requirement to back up the victory over Colombia on penalties in the last 16 – with all of the mental toll that will have taken.

It was not the perfect performance by any means. They started sluggishly and surely gave goalkeeper Pickford far too much work to do for Southgate’s liking in the second half.

On this day, with expectation rising and the unmistakable feeling around this sweeping Samara Stadium that the World Cup is really reaching the business end, England delivered.

Southgate will, of course, want those flaws addressed – but when the World Cup reaches the knockout stage it is the result that counts and England have now won two knockout games after failing to taste victory in one for 12 years.

They have fallen short on so many occasions that an England team who rises to the occasion are worthy of the highest praise.

England, for all the talk, knew they had this history to contend with and it is to the credit of the calm and measured Southgate that he has not only led the team with such confidence and composure, but he has now guided one of the most inexperienced squads here in Russia to the last four.